Unorthodox tactics to fight type 1 diabetes

  • By Barbara Quinn The Monterey County Herald
  • Monday, August 11, 2014 3:13pm
  • Life

We were invited to stroll through stunning vineyards as we made our way to picnic tables shaded by giant oaks trees. While we munched on lunch, Clarence the Clown entertained us with colorful balloons, magic tricks and his own brand of nutrition humor: “Cannibals don’t like clowns, you know, they taste funny.”

It was an unorthodox kickoff to the annual Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) “Walk for a Cure,” acknowledged chairperson Sandra Silvestri, who hosted the event at her family-owned vineyard in Carmel Valley, Calif.

A good reminder though, of some unique treatments coming down the pike to control and one day cure this serious disease.

Unlike type 2 diabetes that is closely tied to genetics, excess weight and lack of exercise, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. In type 1, the body — for some unknown reason — attacks and destroys its own insulin-producing cells. Since insulin is vitally needed to direct energy (glucose) from food into cells, people with type 1 diabetes are dependent on multiple daily injections of insulin for survival.

Silvestri’s son, Joey, now 24, was 2 years old when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 doesn’t just strike children, however. It can affect adults as well.

And, no, you don’t get type 1 diabetes from eating too much sugar. A lack of insulin causes excess sugar (glucose) to a build up in the blood and leads to major complications, however. And because insulin doses must constantly be matched to food and exercise habits, extreme highs or lows of blood sugar levels are a constant threat to a person with type 1 diabetes.

That’s where JDRF comes in. Besides funding research to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, this charitable organization provides support to families who live with this disease. A mentoring program, for example, pairs newly diagnosed children and adults with those who know what it’s like, says JDFR representative Mia McKee.

Most of the money raised by JDRF goes directly to research and clinical trials, says Silvestri. “We’re working all ends of the spectrum,” she said, “so this help gets into the hands of our loved ones.”

For example, researchers are now testing an artificial pancreas — a device to automatically control blood sugar levels based on a person’s daily habits. And a “smart” insulin that turns on when it is needed and turns off when it’s not is currently under investigation. “JDRF will lead us to a cure,” said executive director Julia Rickert. And that takes continued funds for research.

“Let’s turn type 1 into type none,” Silvestri concluded.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Email her at bquinnchomp.org.

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